INDIANAPOLIS — Jameis Winston hurt his right throwing shoulder last season, and by playing with the injury, the quarterback hurt his team.
In hindsight, the Bucs probably wouldn't have done anything differently given that Winston was cleared to play by doctors after spraining the shoulder in a loss at Arizona on Oct. 15.
But after reviewing tape of the 5-11 season, general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter concluded that Winston's injury was maybe the biggest factor in how Tampa Bay's season went.
"We feel like we are very, very close," Licht said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. "I know the season didn't show that with five wins. But we had a quarterback who was in a lot of pain on a throwing shoulder. As we sit back and look at it now, a lot of throws he couldn't make affected our offense. Jameis is a super-competitive guy."
After suffering the injury on a hit by Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, Winston started the next three games (at Buffalo, home against the Panthers, at New Orleans). The Bucs lost them all.
But when Winston returned after missing three games, he was a much better quarterback, throwing with more velocity and accuracy, despite the team winning only one of its final five games. Winston finished 3-10 as a starter.
"We didn't close out games well," Licht said. "And if I had to point to two things, one, the pain that Jameis was going through, and an inability to close out games and turnovers. … I think (the injury) affected his play."
Koetter said it's hard to sit a starter when he has been cleared by the medical staff.
"As far as Jameis specifically, it's hard to say exactly, 'Okay, on this play, this play, this play, is that a shoulder issue?' " Koetter said.
"There's no doubt … the shoulder injury affected Jameis for a stretch of the season until he sat down, and I think he showed when he did come back those last few games that when he's healthy, he's really good."
The Bucs had other issues besides Winston's injury. They struggled in the red zone, scoring 49.06 percent of the time when they were inside the opponent's 20-yard line, a percentage that ranked 24th in the 32-team league.
"On the irritation level, it's proven time and time again that turnovers are No. 1," Koetter said. "Just turnovers in general. … There were four teams, maybe five, that scored 60 percent in the red zone. We were 49 percent. We had 53 possessions in the red zone. We were down there seventh most in the league. So if you're getting down there … you can spin these stats any way you want.''
Koetter took responsibility as a play-caller for not helping his team win close games. The Bucs also had trouble protecting leads due to their inability to rush the passer, finishing last in the NFL with 22 sacks.
"The No. 1 thing I have to do better is I have to help our guys figure out … a way to win," Koetter said. "I've got this chart of one-score games this guy did for us. We tied for the most one-score games, 10. There was one team that had more one-score games. For the teams that had that many, we had the lowest winning percentage, 3-7 in one-score games.
"I think Atlanta was 6-4; 6-4 versus 3-7. They're in the playoffs; we're not. And of those one-score games, some of those are division games as well."